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UK council giving out Amazon Echo devices to elderly and disabled

Attempting to lighten the heavy workload of social services employees, a U.K. county is testing smart home products for elderly and disabled care.
By
April 23, 2018
The Amazon logo on an Amazon Echo.
TL;DR
  • Hampshire County Council in the United Kingdom is testing the use of smart home equipment in 50 homes.
  • The trial is an attempt to see if smart home technology can help alleviate some of the heavy workloads of social services employees.
  • The program cost £50,000 so far and seems to be working well, according to one couple.

As part of a £50,000 program put together by the Hampshire County Council in the United Kingdom, 50 households are receiving a free Amazon Echo smart speaker, among other new technology, via The BBC. Each household has at least one resident who is elderly, disabled, or both.

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The program is a trial to see if things like relatively-inexpensive smart speakers can take over some of the responsibilities of in-home social services.

A couple in the trial, Claire and Eric Williams, received a black Amazon Echo. Claire, who has M.S., uses the Echo to play music, control her home’s lighting, create shopping lists, and listen to audiobooks.

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Eric Williams does not have a debilitating illness like M.S. but still benefits from Claire’s use of the smart speaker. “I can go out now without having to worry how long I’m out for, because Claire can actually ring me and talk to me,” he tells Hannah Bewley from The BBC.

Graham Allen, who works for the Hampshire County Council, hopes that new technology like virtual assistants will help lighten the workload of social services employees. He says that one of the most time-consuming and resource-draining aspects of social care is the “15-minute check-in,” where a social services employee stops into a home to make sure the residents are OK and reminds them to take medication.

“One of the big challenges we have here in Hampshire, and indeed nationally and internationally, is just having sufficient workforce to meet the needs of our entire population,” Allen told The BBC. Allen posits that an additional 8,000 workers will be needed in the next five years to meet the demands of just Hampshire County. If virtual assistants and other new technology can bring that number down some, it’s a win-win for everyone.

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Steve Carefull, who helped purchase and install the smart home hardware in the 50 residences, knows that all eyes are on Hampshire County right now to see if this trial provides a good cost-benefit ratio for citizens. Overall, he and Graham Allen are optimistic that the test will prove incredibly beneficial to everyone.

It appears to be working well for Claire and Eric Williams, who report that their Echo device has become a part of their daily lives. That seems like a terrific start.